accounts, Trendin Bradon did his father Laessar proud. From a young age, he’d
proven himself to be a quick study, learning the ins and outs of the family’s
gem-dealing business and becoming an able assistant to Laessar, running the
company’s day to day affairs whenever Laessar was traveling on business or
otherwise indisposed. He’d also proven himself to have a silver tongue, being a
skilled negotiator who had proven a master at arranging mutually beneficial
deals with competitors and allies alike. Trendin was widely praised for his
intellect and charisma, and by all accounts had a bright future ahead of him.
was all the more infuriating that he could not determine a way to escape Kalrek
Burunne’s dungeons, much less to save his mother Marthe or his sisters Pearlinn
or Topia, who shared his fate. They were each confined in similar cells, which
were sumptuously outfitted with tasteful decorations and furniture, plumbing
and a selection of fine foods…which made the steel shackles that bound Trendin
and the rest of the Bradon family to the floors of their cells stand out all
the more. The cells were cunningly designed so that Trendin and his relatives
could move around in relative freedom, but they could not hope to approach the
doors of their cells, much less free themselves from their chains.
Trendin could do little but spring to his feet and glare murderously at the
sound of the mirrored door to his cell being opened, and at Kalrek as he strode
in, a wide smile on his face.
it, are you?” Kalrek smirked, looking at the various scratches and dents in the
walls and furniture, which Trendin had made in his attempts to find a secret
door that Kalrek might not have known about, or to break the chains that kept
him trapped in this cell. “Come now, you’re supposed to be a bright lad. Do you
honestly think that I would have chosen these rooms as cells if there was
actually a way out?” Kalrek smirked.
only response was to spit at the older gnome, who easily dodged the projectile.
lad-do you even know why you’re here? Besides as a means of ensuring your
father’s cooperation, I mean,” Kalrek continued.
merely stared murder back at Kalrek.
it as well you should know, since our time together will be ending soon
enough,” Kalrek continued, his eyes narrowing. “You see, I have almost all that
I need-and soon you and your womenfolk be of little more use to me.”
himself, Trendin couldn’t keep his eyes from widening.
motivation for one of my old friends, and now you’re serving as motivation for
another,” Kalrek continued. “Still, they’re but stepping stones, part of the
larger goal I have in mind. I should think, at least before you are made to
meet Urdlen, I should at least do the courtesy of letting you know what I’ve
been seeking all these years…”
his best to keep calm, but he couldn’t keep himself from shaking with rage.
ever heard of the Crown of Arumdina, my boy?” Kalrek continued.
remained stubbornly silent, refusing to answer Kalrek’s question.
you a question,” Kalrek said after a moment, his eyes narrowing.
made as if to spit at Kalrek, before the older gnome lunged forward and drove
his mailed fist into Trendin’s face once, and then again. Blood poured down
Trendin’s face from his now-broken nose, and from his two broken teeth, which
fell out of his mouth and onto his lap.
ought to be ashamed of himself,” Kalrek scowled. “Not only does he not teach
you anything about the history of our beloved homeland, but he fails to teach
you proper manners. I suppose that it falls to me to do it in his place, then?”
only stared back impassively at Kalrek, before noticing how Kalrek’s hand went
to the sword at his belt.
kingdom of Flinthold was far greater in ancient times than it is today,” Kalrek
explained, “its prosperity and power among the greatest in the western
Flanaess, and said to be blessed by Garl Glittergold himself. His favor was
exemplified by the Crown of Arumdina, the regalia of the King of Flinthold. The
Crown was so named because of the shard of mithril that was encased in its
front, which was said to be a piece of Arumdina itself, the sentient, divine
battleaxe that served as Garl’s eternal companion. With the Crown, Flinthold
was a gnome civilization to outrank any others in the Lortmils, or even any of
its rivals in the Crystalmists, the Barrier Peaks or the Yatils,” he continued.
had any reaction to what Kalrek was saying, he did not show it.
Flinthold fell on hard times due to its jealous rivals. They contrived to steal
the Crown, and with it Garl’s favor. Without Garl’s blessings, Flinthold could
not truly be ruled by a king, and so its rulers could only claim the titles of
regents, unable to fully claim their birthrights.”
lad-imagine falling so far, knowing that your family is destined to wield
glory, but that it is always out of your reach, as you are forced to accept
your secondary lot in life. So it was for Flinthold’s ruling family, and so it
was for their kingdom. Indeed, Flinthold’s old monarchy faded into history by
the time of the crowning of the Aerdy Overkings…and now appointed regents, with
no ties to the past, are left to rule over a faded and weakened Flinthold.”
continued to stare at Kalrek.
legends of the Crown of Arumdina persisted, you see,” Kalrek smiled. “Priests
of Garl Glittergold received visions from their god, visions of the Crown that
showed that it is still out there, somewhere. Think of it, lad-whosoever found
the Crown of Arumdina could lay claim to the throne of Flinthold, and return
Garl Glittergold’s favor to our fallen homeland, and restore it to its glory!”
seek the Crown?” Trendin finally asked. “Is that what all this is for? The
consorting with spriggans, orcs and minotaurs? The murdering and looting of
people who never once crossed you? The using my father’s business to transport
your blood money? All so you can finance your search for the Crown?”
“…I see I
was wrong,” Kalrek smiled. “Laessar did educate you well. And you’re quite
right, lad-the wealth and prestige I have been accumulating is indeed
supporting my search for the Crown. That’s not the only goal I have, of
course-a worthy king needs followers willing to support him when he takes the
throne, to say nothing of the wealth and splendor a king ought to have.”
eyes widened at that.
expect to take the throne of Flinthold with your murdering brigands at your
side?” Trendin asked incredulously. “You believe that our people would accept a
king that consorts with spriggans?”
was right the first time,” Kalrek frowned. “You are indeed a fool. Surely you
don’t expect that I would ever try to take the throne that way, do you? No,
lad, the Crown would confirm my right to rule, and my support from the people.
They will stand with me as I lead Flinthold to reclaim its lost glory, to build
it more strongly than ever, with Garl’s favor blessing us once more!” he
you revere Urdlen, the Crawler Below,” Trendin scowled. “Surely you don’t
were cut off with a grunt as Kalrek punched him in the face with a mailed fist
a second time.
“No, lad, you don’t think,” he frowned. “So few of
our people do. Indeed, I was wrong-you don’t deserve to know the full story
So saying, he turned and left Trendin’s cell,
slamming and locking the door behind him.
the stories of Urdlen, Kalrek had been intrigued as a child by the ways in
which gnomes used illusions to protect and defend themselves. And yet, the
gnomes seemed so rarely to engage in illusions among themselves, which struck
Kalrek as such a waste of potential, particularly when the gnomes had such
innate skill with them.
witnessed it a hundred times or more among the humans, the dwarves and the
elves that he and his fellow gnomes interacted with so often. The lies to
conceal unpleasant truths, the deceptions to gain and keep power, the pretenses
of alliance that would eventually lead to betrayal when an ally no longer
races could engage in such things, why then could the gnomes not profit from it
more than they did, given their wealth of skill at deception?
it so well once before, when he’d betrayed Flinthold to the Steelhearts, of
course. He'd have been quite pleased to see the Steelhearts cave the entire
place in, but when Garnetholme had come to Flinthold’s rescue, he’d realized the
value of allies. The wealth he’d purloined from the Steelhearts had been the
start of his efforts, as he’d gained allies and refined his plans, and began
his search for the Crown.
everything was coming together so wonderfully well. His minions respected him
as a warlord, and they would revere him as a king when he took the throne of
Flinthold. They would act as his agents, expanding his power and striking down
his enemies from the shadows while he put on the public face of a good king,
using Garl’s favor granted through the Crown to rebuild Flinthold’s prestige
and glory. The hidden part of his kingdom would remain just that. The visible
part of his kingdom, the one shown to the world at large, would be that of
making Flinthold the most wondrous of realms. The old allegations that he had
betrayed Flinthold to the Steelhearts would be exposed as the lies and innuendo
they were. The Crown would be his to rightfully wear-and it hardly mattered if
Garl’s favor truly came through the Crown, or if it was merely a legend. The
favor could just as easily come from Urdlen when it was properly rededicated.
have the Crown on his brow, the power of his subjects in one hand and the power
of his minions in the other, his empire, his visible and hidden empire, would
grow like an ever-expanding tunnel, always seeking new treasures, new glory…
He could hear Urdlen laughing.
snorting and bellowing sounds, so reminiscent of cows and bulls, approaching
down the passage made sense to Seline and her companions. Locating the
companions in the twisting, mazelike passages of the cave network leading to
Kalrek’s lair would have been difficult even for a gnome or a dwarf, but it was
not surprising that the minotaurs would have such an easy time finding them.
The bull-like creatures, as stupid and violent as they otherwise were, could
find their way almost flawlessly through a labyrinth, unerringly able to track
immediately, Seline’s voice rose in a chant, as her friends gave cries of alarm
and fell back, distracting the minotaurs from what she was doing.
off a flurry of arrows, stinging the minotaurs and even felling one, but the
rest of the vicious creatures only seemed angered by the attacks.
had fallen back, and now Seline was at the head of the group.
of lighting streaked from her fingers, tearing through the minotaurs and
causing the entire passage to glow brightly. The angry creatures bellowed in
pain, several of them falling dead, the bodies of the others streaked with
scorch marks all across their bodies and smoke rising from their burnt hair.
They came on, determined to tear Seline apart, but now Ma’non’go and Airk
sprang forward to confront them.
drove his morning star into the head of the first charging minotaur, crushing
its skull right between the wretched creature’s horns. The other one swung its
massive flail at Ma’non’go, who caught the flail’s chain in the tines of his
trident, pulling the creature off balance. As the minotaur sought to free its
weapon, Ma’non’go quickly thrust his trident upwards, throwing the flail over
his shoulders. As the angry creature charged at him, all too ready to use its
horns to tear at him, Ma’non’go brought his trident down more quickly than he
expected, allowing the stupid thing to skewer itself on his weapon.
poured from the minotaur’s mouth as it collapsed, the stupid look on its face
only dawning in recognition when the light finally began to leave its eyes.
shook her head as she considered the minotaurs. She’d noticed how long and
straight this particular passage was, and how ideal it would be for her to cast
her lightning bolt down the passage to destroy a line of enemies. It hadn’t
taken long for her companions to understand what their roles would be, once
she’d explained it to them, and Amyalla had congratulated her on her
could only shake her head again, realizing that Kalrek was likely the more
clever one here. In all likelihood, his minions wouldn’t have fought well
beside one another, so by sending them out into the caverns the way he had,
each of the groups of monsters could fight according to their own strengths…and
force the companions to waste their own strength fighting the horrible things
before they ever reached Kalrek’s domain, where his own strongest and most
loyal minions were likely awaiting them. The companions had been fortunate in
only encountering the bandits and their shadow mastiff pack, and then the group
of minotaurs, and knew that many other killers were still lurking in the
passages around them.
Already, she’d used more of her magic than she
would have preferred. Even then, though, her magic wouldn’t likely be as
effective against the dwarves and gnomes she expected would be among Kalrek’s
Seline typically enjoyed intellectual puzzles,
and the test of how to creatively employ her magic in resolving them, but she
was not optimistic about their chances.